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How Would You Move Mount Fuji? 1247

adamba writes: "Why are manhole covers round?" "How many gas stations are there in the United States?" "How would you design a remote control for venetian blinds?" "What company is famous for interview questions like those?" You might not know the answer to the first three questions, but you probably know the last one. The notion of asking "Microsoft interview questions," quick logic puzzles and brainteasers, has become accepted wisdom for many technology companies. In comparison, the questions asked during traditional interviews, such as "Describe your typical day" and "What is your greatest weakness?" seem too simplistic, too easy to handle with a prepared answer, too prone to allowing weak candidates to slip through: they simply don't reveal enough about the person. While the Microsoft questions appear to be a better way to evaluate people, the issue has never really been seriously examined. Microsoft's success would seem to make the argument pointless: Can $250 billion in market capitalization be wrong?" Read on for an interesting look at the details and justifications for this kind of interview.
How Would You Move Mount Fuji? Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle
author William Poundstone
pages 288
publisher Little Brown & Company
rating 9
reviewer Adam Barr
ISBN 0316919160
summary The scoop on Microsoft interviews--with answers!

Now comes a new book, How Would You Move Mount Fuji? Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle - How the World's Smartest Company Selects the Most Creative Thinkers by science writer William Poundstone. Poundstone talked to various people who have been involved in Microsoft hiring, including those who were interviewed, and those who gave interviews (full disclosure: I worked at Microsoft for ten years and was one of the people he talked to). He includes a lengthy list of questions, and most interestingly for many people, he also includes answers.

In the book, Poundstone traces the origins of this type of question, providing some fascinating information on the history of intelligence testing. He then chronicles how a certain type of puzzle interview caught on in the high-tech industry. Microsoft was not the first company to ask such questions, but it certainly popularized it.

Poundstone explains that responding to a problem you can't solve could be thought of as the fundamental problem in Artificial Intelligence (AI), and then continues,

"The problems used in AI research have often been puzzles or games. These are simpler and more clearly defined than the complex problems of the real world. They too involve the elements of logic, insight, and intuition that pertain to real problems. Many of the people at Microsoft follow AI work closely, of course, and this may help to explain what must strike some readers as peculiar--their supreme confidence that silly little puzzles have a bearing on the real world."

It could be--or maybe Microsoft employees assume that since they were hired that way, it's a great way to hire (and complaints from those who were not hired are just sour grapes). Most developers I knew thought of AI as a pretty academic discipline, and were more concerned with putting a dialog box up at the right location on the screen than trying to pass the Turing Test.

Nevertheless, as companies seek to emulate Microsoft, the questions have caught on elsewhere. And as Poundstone put it, such questions have now "metastasized" to other industries, such as finance.

This makes the effectiveness of these questions an important issue. Poundstone first presents evidence that "Where do you see yourself in five years" and "What are you most proud of" are fairly pointless questions. In one experiment he describes, two trained interviewers conducted interviews with a group of volunteers. Their evaluations were compared to those of another group who saw a fifteen second video of the interview: the candidate entering the room, shaking hands, and sitting down. The opinions correlated strongly; in other words, when you are sitting in an interview telling the interviewer what you do on your day off and what the last book you read was, the interviewer has already made up his or her mind, based on who knows what subjective criteria. As Poundstone laments, "This would be funny if it weren't tragic."

Puzzle interviews could hardly be worse than that, but it turns out the evidence that they are better is doubtful. Poundstone shows how intelligence tests are on very dubious scientific standing, and points out that Microsoft's interviews are a form of IQ test, even though Microsoft does not admit that publicly. In his 1972 book of puzzles Games for the Superintelligent, Mensa member James Fixx wrote, "If you don't particularly enjoy the kinds of puzzles and problems we're talking about here, that fact alone says nothing about your intelligence in general". Yet virtually every Microsoft employee accepts the "obvious" rationale, that only people who do well in logic puzzles will do well at Microsoft.

There is another important point about puzzle-based interviews: although you would think that they were naturally more objective than traditional interviews--more black or white, right or wrong, and therefore less subject to interpretation by the interviewer--in fact, interviewers' evaluation of answers can be extremely subjective. Once you have formed your impression of a candidate from the enter/handshake/sit-down routine at the start of the interview, it is easy to rationalize a candidate's performance in an interview, either positively or negatively. They needed a bunch of hints to get the answer? Sure, but they were just small hints and it's a tough problem. They got the correct answer right away? No fair, they must have seen it before.

Given the ease with which the answers to logic puzzles can be spun, it is highly probable that Microsoft interviewers are also making fifteen-second judgements of candidates, without even realizing it.

Three years ago Malcolm Gladwell wrote a New Yorker article about job interviews called The New-Boy Network. Gladwell quotes much of the same research as Poundstone, and relates the story of Nolan Myers, a Harvard senior who is being recruited by Tellme and Microsoft. He has done a one-hour interview with Hadi Partovi of Tellme, and spoken to Gladwell, the author, in a coffee shop for about ninety minutes. His initial interaction with Microsoft was much briefer: he asked Steve Ballmer a question during an on-campus event, which led to an exchange of emails.

As Gladwell writes, "What convinced Ballmer he wanted Myers? A glimpse! He caught a little slice of Nolan Myers in action and--just like that--the C.E.O. of a four-hundred-billion-dollar company was calling a college senior in his dorm room. Ballmer somehow knew he liked Myers, the same way Hadi Partovi knew, and the same way I knew after our little chat at Au Bon Pain."

So Steve Ballmer, who obviously does not feel that he is choosing people based on traditional interviewing techniques, and in fact was one of the originators of the "Microsoft questions," is more prone to making fifteen-second judgements than he would probably admit.

The flaw, if any, may simply be in ascribing too much value to the puzzles themselves. The actual questions may be secondary: the company might do as well asking geek-centric trivia questions, like "What was the name of Lord Byron's niece?" That does not mean Microsoft is hiring the same people that an investment bank is going to hire. The cues they look for may be different: instead of a firm handshake and the right tie, they may be looking for intelligent eyes and fast speech, or whatever non-verbal cues ubergeeks throw off.

A Microsoft interview candidate will typically talk to four or five employees, and in general must get a "hire" recommendation from all of them. Even if the employees are actually basing their recommendations not on puzzle-solving ability but on a subconscious evaluation, it is unlikely that all of them will be subconsciously using the same criteria. Emitting the proper signals to satisfy four different Microsoft employees may be as good a judge of a candidate as any, and Microsoft may be good at interviewing simply because it tends to hire people that are similar in some unknown way to the current group of employees. If another company adopts puzzle interviews, they may discover that they are not hiring the smartest people, just the people most like themselves.

In the end, the best thing that can be said about puzzle interviews is that as a screening technique, they are no worse than traditional interviews. And there are some side effects: some candidates may be more prone to accept a job with Microsoft because of the interview style, and imparted wisdom about the technique may function as a useful pre-screening of prospective applicants. And of course, employees may get a kick out of showing a candidate how smart they are, although this can have a downside: How Would You Move Mount Fuji? has several examples of interviewers who seemed more concerned with proving their intelligence than in gauging that of the candidate. One former Microsoftie admits they asked candidates a question they did not know the answer to, just to see what they would do.

Two chapters of the book, entitled "Embracing Cluelessness" and "How to Outsmart the Puzzle Interview," attempt to help interview candidates who are confronted with such puzzle questions. The official advice is scarce: Microsoft's Interview Tips page advises candidates "Be prepared to think," which isn't much help, since presumably nobody is advising the opposite. Some of the recruiters who go to college campuses have their own little tips; for example, one recruiter named Colleen offers a quote from Yoda: "Do or do not, there is no try." Other recruiter tips include "Stay awake" and "Always leave room for dessert." Luckily, Poundstone gives advice that is a bit more concrete than that.

Microsoft puzzles can be divided into two types: those where the methodology is more important than the answer, and those where only the answer matters.

The "methodology" puzzles break into two classes, "design" puzzles ("How would you design a particular product or service?") and "estimation" puzzles ("How much of a certain object occupies a certain space?"--for example, "How much does the ice in a hockey rink weigh?")

Design questions exist because at Microsoft, responsibility for product development is split between two groups, the developers and the program managers. Developers write code: program managers design the user interface, trying to balance the needs of users with the technical constraints from developers. As Poundstone points out, while estimation questions and general logic puzzles are universal, the design questions are reserved for program managers.

The reason is that program management does not require the specific skills of development. Designing software is something any reasonably intelligent person can attempt, so the design questions are aimed at finding people who are really good at design. In fact one program manager I worked with told me that the best way to distinguish a potential program manager from a potential developer was to ask them to design a house: a developer would jump right in, while a program manager would step back and ask questions about the constraints on the house.

(Developers, meanwhile, are usually asked to write code on the whiteboard, an experience that program management candidates are spared. Books exist that discuss coding problems in more detail, such as Programming Interviews Exposed: Secrets to Landing Your Next Job by John Mongan and Noah Suojanen, which covers many standard programming questions and even includes answers to a few of the logic puzzles that Poundstone addresses).

Poundstone does include some of these design questions and provides sample answers. But the "answer" to these questions is really the process involved: ask questions, state assumptions, propose design. That's all you need to know about them. If you are wondering why Microsoft did not use this logical procedure when confronted with the question "Design a response to the open source movement," but instead seems to have spouted off the first five things that popped into its collective head--that's just more proof that performance in interviews is not necessarily a great indicator of future job performance.

Another recruiter, Stacey, gives the following interview tip: "The best interview tips I can give you are to relax and think for yourself. For a Microsoft interview, be prepared to answer both technical and problem solving questions. Ask clarifying questions and remember to think out loud. We are more interested in the way your are thinking through a problem then we are in your final answer!"

That approach works for the "methodology" questions: design and estimation. What about the other kinds--the more traditional brainteasers? For those questions, forget your methodology. What Microsoft interviewers want is the right answer.

James Fixx, writing three years before Microsoft was founded, offers some advice that may hearten potential Microsoft recruits: "One way to improve one's ability to use one's mind is simply to see how very bright people use theirs." With that in mind, we can follow along with Poundstone as he explains the solutions to the puzzles that the very bright people at Microsoft ask during interviews. He certainly delivers the goods: 100 pages of answers. Unfortunately, it's not clear whether seeing those answers help you tune up your brain to answer problems that do not appear in the book.

In his book, Fixx spends some time trying to explain what, as he so delicately puts it, "the superintelligent do that's different from what ordinary people do." For example, trying to describe how a superintelligent person figures out the next letter in the sequence "O T T F F S S", he advises people to think hard: "Persistence alone will now bring its reward, and eventually a thought occurs to him." Talking about how to arrange four pennies so there are two straight lines with three pennies in each line, he writes "The true puzzler...gropes for some loophole, and, with luck, quickly finds it in the third dimension." Further hints abound: "The intelligent person tries... not to impose unnecessary restrictions on his mind. The bright person has succeeded because he does not assume the problem cannot be solved simply because it cannot be solved in one way or even two ways he has tried." This advice sounds great in theory, but how do you apply it in practice? How do you make your mind think that way? As Poundstone quotes Louis Armstrong, "Man, if you have to ask 'What is it?' you ain't never goin' to know."

Poundstone recognizes that the flashes of insight that Fixx describes, and that Microsoft interviewers expect, are more of a hit-or-miss thing than the inevitable result of hard thinking by an intelligent person: "What is particularly troubling is how little 'logic' seems to be involved in some phases of problem solving. Difficult problems are often solved via a sudden, intuitive insight. One moment you're stuck; the next moment this insight has popped into your head, though not by any step-by-step logic that can be recounted."

During interview training I participated in when I worked there, Microsoft would emphasize four attributes that it was looking for when hiring: intelligence, hard work, ability to get things done, and vision. Intelligence was always #1, yet despite this, Poundstone says that the official Microsoft people he talked to would shy away from the word "intelligence", preferring to use terms like "bandwidth" and "inventiveness". Indeed Microsoft's Interview Tips web page says "We look for original, creative thinkers, and our interview process is designed to find those people." No mention of the word intelligence or any notion that interviews are some sort of intelligence test.

In fact, although I think that most Microsoft people would consider the puzzle tests to be mainly a test of intelligence, they may do better at testing some of the other desired attributes. Psychologist and personnel researcher Harry Hepner once said, "Creative thinkers make many false starts, and continually waver between unmanageable fantasies and systematic attack." Poundstone explains that you have to figure out when your fantasies have become too unmanageable: "To deal effectively with puzzles (and with the bigger problems for which they may be a model), you must operate on two or more levels simultaneously. One thread of consciousness tackles the problem while another, higher-level thread monitors the progress. You need to keep asking yourself 'Is this approach working? How much time have I spent on this approach, and how likely is it to produce an answer soon? Is there something else I should be trying?'"

This is great advice, not just for a puzzle, but for a job, and life in general. So watching someone think through a puzzle might be a great way to see how they would tackle a tough problem at work--the "hard work" and "get things done" abilities that Microsoft is also looking for. As James Fixx writes in the sequel More Games for the Superintelligent, "While the less intelligent person, unsure of ever being able to solve a problem at all, is easily discouraged, the intelligent person is fairly sure of succeeding and therefore presses on, discouragements be damned."

Unfortunately, the typical Microsoft interviewer is not looking at the approach to puzzle questions as a test of perseverence. Someone who tries five different attempts might demonstrate more resourcefulness than someone who just "gets it"--but they would get turned down. Interviewers who ask puzzle questions are probing the "intelligence" category, and they want the right answer.

The last chapter of the book is titled "How Innovative Companies Ought to Interview" and deals with a soon-to-be-problem: How will the industry be affected by the publication of this book? Will interviews still work if everyone knows the secrets?

Knowledge of Microsoft-style questions is already out there on the Internet. Since the candidates who participate in the interviews do not sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, they are free to tell others the questions they were asked, and from these reports databases of questions have been built up. Poundstone includes the URLs of several sites, including Kiran Bondalapati's "Interview Question Bank", Michael Pryor's "Techinterview", Chris Sells' "Interviewing at Microsoft", and William Wu's "Riddles". These sites generally don't include answers, but certainly knowing the types of questions to expect can be an advantage.

Microsoft employees are aware of such sites. Once, when I sent email describing the questions I had asked a Microsoft candidate, I got a nasty reply from someone else at the company: Didn't I know that the question I had asked was posted on a website of known Microsoft interview questions? On the other hand, with no official internal Microsoft list of questions, some employees are undoubtedly using these sites to come up with material. Even within Microsoft there is debate about which questions are reasonable. In an unscientific survey I took of former Microsoft program managers, opinion was divided on the validity of some of the questions. A question described by one person as a good test of a candidate's ability was dismissed by another as foolish.

Poundstone does point out that some questions are silly and should not be asked ("Define the color green"), but he gives serious answers to others which I don't think are worthwhile either, including "If you could remove any of the fifty U.S. states, which would it be?" and "How do they make M&Ms?" Furthermore, I would argue that if an entire class of questions can be "tainted" by How Would You Move Mount Fuji?, they don't deserve to be asked in the first place. Estimation questions might be invalidated by the revelation that the way to solve them was to multiply together a bunch of wild guesses. The strategy of using a design question to to differentiate program management candidates from developer candidates might also go the way of the dodo. Is that necessarily a bad thing?

How Would You Move Mount Fuji? is worth reading even if you don't plan on interviewing at Microsoft. It has some interesting history, a few good Microsoft tidbits, and puzzles that are entertaining on their own. For those considering a job at Microsoft, the book may ratchet up the "arms race" of questions. Microsoft employees may assume that people interviewing have read the book--so if you are going to interview there, or anywhere else that imitates their style, you should probably read it too.

You can purchase How Would You Move Mount Fuji? Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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How Would You Move Mount Fuji?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:03PM (#5790223)
    In true Zen fashion... it is not the mountain that must move, but you.

    Or was it one spoonfull at a time?
    • by casio282 ( 468834 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @02:11PM (#5791775) Homepage
      "I don't know, but I'm sure there's something in MS Word that will do that..."

      Am I hired?
    • by T1girl ( 213375 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @02:32PM (#5791995) Homepage
      I would tell it a very poignant story.
    • by Daetrin ( 576516 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @03:24PM (#5792593)
      Wait five seconds.


      What? You wanted it moved somewhere other than 15km down the earth's orbital path? You should have specified that in the original problem!

    • The first question you should ask is 'relative to what?' If asked to move Mount Fuji relative to myself, I could just walk.

      Alternatively, 'by how much'? If you need to move by only a small amount relative to some other mountain, and movement is judged according to the centre of gravity, then moving one rock from the side of the mountain to the other side would shift the centre of gravity a little and so count as moving.
      • you win! (Score:4, Funny)

        by twitter ( 104583 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @04:38PM (#5793360) Homepage Journal
        Bing Bing Bing! Your answers are SO Microsoft that I am hearby authorized to hire you as Steve Baller's Replacement! Not only have you wasted your time and energy with such mental masturbation, you have come up with answers we approve of. Let's examine:

        If asked to move Mount Fuji relative to myself, I could just walk.

        Double Pluss Good! You have simply convinced yourself that it moved. Fuji is Fuji but you are ours. Other correct answers involve name changes and crossing your eyes.

        If you need to move by only a small amount relative to some other mountain, and movement is judged according to the centre of gravity, then moving one rock from the side of the mountain to the other side would shift the centre of gravity a little and so count as moving.

        Again, you see clearly the Microsoft spirit, do nothing and say it is changed! Once you have decieved yourself, you can lie to others as well.

        We love you! With that kind of thinking, you could pass five, fifteen or fifty M$ employees without earning a blackball. When can you start, bright man? We will ink a copy of our 500 page unilaterally changeable NDA's and employee contracts right away. Welcome to the world's smartest soon to be extinct company, where delusions of moving Fugi are matched only by visions of world conquest and neo-Darwinian madness.

  • Manhole Covers (Score:4, Informative)

    by DavidpFitz ( 136265 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:03PM (#5790227) Homepage Journal
    Manhole Covers are round so they can't fall down the manhole. Simple.

    Standard lateral thinking interview question :)

    • by athakur999 ( 44340 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:09PM (#5790300) Journal
      All this talk of manholes has all the trolls itching to post up goatse.cx links.
    • Re:Manhole Covers (Score:5, Insightful)

      by phsolide ( 584661 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:20PM (#5790445)
      Manhole Covers are round so they can't fall down the manhole.

      This particular answer always bothers me. Sure, it's simplistically true, but a whole family of shapes exists [psc.edu] that has the same property but does not have the unfortunate property of spinning in place. For example, assume a vehicle stops on a manhole cover with a (powered) tire off-center on the cover. When the driver presses the throttle, the tire exerts a force on the manhole cover that gives it a tendency to rotate. Instant loss of traction.

      Also, other shaped covers could posses a flange - the manhole would have a smaller maximum dimension than the flange, preventing the cover from falling down the hole. Squares or triangles would require unreasonably large flanges, but octagons wouldn't.

      My guess is that a variety of factors (shape of manholes, ease of manufature, ability to roll the covers) lead to round manhole covers.

      • Re:Manhole Covers (Score:3, Insightful)

        by JimBobJoe ( 2758 )
        Isn't there something to be said about not having any edges? For instance, if a round manhole cover comes out of the manhole a bit, and a car goes over it, there are no sharp edges that the tire can hit, which could either damage it, or be a point of leverage to cause the cover to flip up in some way. The round cover may lift slightly, and then collapse back down. Eventually if it works its way back to it's happy manhole home, it will just pop itself back in. On the other hand, I believe that the other shap
    • Re:Manhole Covers (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Glonoinha ( 587375 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:22PM (#5790459) Journal
      Manhole covers are round because manholes are round.
      • Re:Manhole Covers (Score:4, Insightful)

        by foog ( 6321 ) <phygelus@yahoo.com> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @01:07PM (#5790998)
        right, and manholes are round because

        a) people have to fit in them (so triagular shapes are less desirable because they waste space)
        b) it's good if they're easy to manufacture
        c) they're made by the same people who make sewer pipes


        I explained this in an interview once, the first time I got that question, and the interviewer was very unhappy with that answer. He got even more unhappy when I pointed out that not all manholes are round. There are rectangular access vias of different sorts, and these usually have rectangular covers (which are often hinged, which is another solution to the falling-in problem).

        Although I agree the now-conventional "so they don't fall in and so you can roll them around, and hinges are undesirable on a street" answers are clever in an appealing way, and are true in their way, I still think I'm right. That is, I don't think they describe the real design motives behind the shape of manhole covers.

        Needless to say, I didn't get the job. It was disappointing at the time, because I really needed a decent job, but it would have probably been a terrible place to work.
    • by hndrcks ( 39873 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:31PM (#5790592) Homepage
      In the UK, at least, they aren't. [znminmet.com]

    • Re:Manhole Covers (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ultimabob ( 590133 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:37PM (#5790664) Homepage
      I always thought they were Round to prevent streets from cracking. When they are round, the manholes are round, and there are no corners or structual weak points for cracks to appear.
  • by tha_mink ( 518151 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:05PM (#5790258)
    I suppose something like...

    umount /dev/fuji
    • by Quixote ( 154172 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:19PM (#5790419) Homepage Journal
      That would be the answer to "how do you flatten Mt Fuji?".

      I recommend
      mv /mnt/fuji /mnt/barji

  • Manhole Covers... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mattyohe ( 517995 ) <matt.yohe@QUOTEgmail.com minus punct> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:06PM (#5790259)
    That one is simple.. because any other shape would allow the cover to fall in.. But what about the others??

    What kindof answer do you think you would say? What are you supposed to reference for the gas station question?

    Does microsoft want me to say that I would assemble my blinds with the latest bluetooth spec and then controll it from my computer?
    • Actually, it's because when it's round, you can move it easier around construction zones...you can just roll it.
      • ...it's because when it's round, you can move it easier around construction zones...you can just roll it.

        Having worked in the trades, including doing basic municipal labour, I can state flatly that I have never seen this. When one handles a manhole cover, one simply hooks the lifter into the hole and drags it out of the hole. The thing is rarely moved more than a meter from it's hole. If it needs to be moved further, it is dragged, not rolled. If it needs to be move a great distance for some rare rea

    • by been42 ( 160065 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:19PM (#5790428) Homepage

      Manhole covers are round to fit the holes.

    • Does microsoft want me to say that I would assemble my blinds with the latest bluetooth spec and then controll it from my computer?

      No, I'm sure they want you to say that you will take the latest bluetooth spec, and extented it to add more innovation to satisfy the needs of a wider audience while making it more userfriendly. The new innovative spec based on bluetooth may not be compatible with the original spec, but oh well, that's the price of innovation.
    • by FurryFeet ( 562847 ) <joudanx@@@yahoo...com> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:33PM (#5790616)
      You know, I heard a story about a guy being interviewed at MS and asked "Why are manhole covers round?". His answer: "They're not", followed by a gesture out the window. It seem's manholes at Microsoft's campus are square.
      Can't for the life of me remember where I read that, but I can testify that Microsoft's manhole covers are square... :)
    • That one is simple.. because any other shape would allow the cover to fall in..
      how about an eqilateral triangle? that wouldn't fall in, given that it has the same lip as a circular one.

      or how about a sphere with a larger radius than the hole?

      or come to think of it, any shape would, so long as it's shortest profile in one dimension is longer than the hole's.

      don't make me do the proof, please. :)

    • That one is simple.. because any other shape would allow the cover to fall in..

      Wrong. The correct answer is
      " The shape of the manhole is inconsequential. The important thing is to tell the customer that while our company's manholes fit standard manholes, that we improved the design by modifying the cover so that you need a special key to get it open. This improves the security of the sewer system by limiting access to those that have the key. I then add that few sanitation engineers have ever lost th

  • by erikdotla ( 609033 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:06PM (#5790262)
    $ mv mtfuji /there

    Somehow I think that isn't going to get me a job at Microsoft.
  • by pyros ( 61399 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:07PM (#5790281) Journal
    What is Linux, and how would you kill it?
    • It's easy.

      Be the first to create new software technologies and algorithms and patent it or buy the patents from the original owners. Vigorously enforce these patents, especially against open source projects, and especially against Linux. Within 10 years, Linux will either be sorely out-of-date because they can't use these new technologies, or it will be driven into the underground. Either way, businesses will stop using it because of legal problems.

      I think the more important question is: How do we sto
    • by kakos ( 610660 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @01:16PM (#5791116)
      I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify Linux as an operating system. I realized that it is not actually a operating system. Every operating system on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but Linux does not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every user is converted. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Linux is a disease, a cancer of this planet, Linux is a plague, and Microsoft is the cure.
  • manholes (Score:3, Funny)

    by erikdotla ( 609033 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:09PM (#5790297)
    Oh, and manhole covers are round because Hollywood lobbied the sewage industry to make them that way, so that they could have movie characters like Hulk or Superman throw them at people. Somehow a spinning square piece of metal isn't as cool as a round one.
  • by Ars-Fartsica ( 166957 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:09PM (#5790303)
    "What is your greatest weakness?"

    My answer - I have no tolerance for idiotic canned interview questions and the morons who use them.

    Really, this has got to be the worst, most moronic question that can be asked. It really is a red flag that the interviewer doesn't have anything intelligent to discuss - you should head for the door. What's even worse are the moronic answers people give in a hackneyed attempt to make a weakness look like a strength - "I'm a perfectionist!!" or "I work TOO hard!!".

    Then again, ask a moronic question and expect a moronic answer.

    • by ergo98 ( 9391 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:22PM (#5790472) Homepage Journal
      I wouldn't call it a "moronic question" whatsoever: Certainly no worse than pulling a "brainteaser for dummies" out of the net archives, which is what the majority of "clever" Microsoft-like questions are. It's like being the Jeopardy host and smirking in self-satisfaction because you know all the answers...because you have them in front of you.

      Questions like "What is your greatest weakness" can show a tremendous amount about the applicant, and is more of a discussion starter than a literal questions. As far as how the applicant answers, I can see definite downsides to "I'm a perfectionist" (meaning: I never finish projects because I'm always working on "just one last issue") or "I work too hard" (meaning: I'm a martyr and will likely have a serious case of burn-out several months down the road, not to mention upsetting the work apple-cart).

      Any question at an interview, asked and interpreted by someone with intelligence, is a powerful question. Do you eat lunch? What are your career goals? What is an optimal work day? All of these questions can give great insight into the honesty and character of the interviewee. Personally I think the "Microsoft questions" are grossly overstated, and asking brainteasers most certainly didn't make Microsoft the success that it is (especially true to those that believe that Microsoft is more of a marketing success than a technical success. Personally I believe that they're a great technical success as well, but just pointing out the paradox).
      • by Ars-Fartsica ( 166957 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:28PM (#5790559)
        No No No. If the interviewer can't ask me about my experience or even offer an intelligent technical question, they go in the moron file. Questions pulled out of "What Color Is Your Parachute" means the interviewer is either so stupid as to think this question is useful, or hasn't even bothered to read over my resume or think about meaningful questions.

        Remember, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you - if they can't even ask intelligent questions based on your resume, once again, its time to head for the door.

  • by tjw ( 27390 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:10PM (#5790304) Homepage
    Which of the following would you most prefer?
    A: a puppy,
    B: a pretty flower from your sweety, or
    C: a large properly formatted data file?
  • by UCRowerG ( 523510 ) <UCRowerG&yahoo,com> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:10PM (#5790305) Homepage Journal
    Yes, at graduation time I was interviewed by a Microsoft guy, from their gaming department.

    In one of his interview questions he asked me how many "weighings" I would need on a scale to find the one marble that was differently weighed from the other ones. I think the idea was for me to come up with some log-base-2 of n weighings. Since he didn't specify that the unique marble was specifically heavier (or lighter), he couldn't figure out why I needed an extra weighing for my result, until I explained my methodology to him.

    Then he realized that he had presented the problem somewhat incorrectly and grudgingly said, "Well I guess you get that right, since I didn't explain the problem completely."

    ...Needless to say I was not called back for a second interview.

    • Re:My Interview (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Hate to break it to you, but I am an MS employee and I have interviewed 4 candidates to date. In the training session they give us, they tell us to simply say "I probably explained the problem incorrectly" when an applicant is becoming particularly defensive about his (probably wrong) answer. Judging from your "log base 2" answer to the weighted ball problem, I'd say you got the canned response. Incidentally, the answer is 3 when 12 balls are being used.
    • Re:My Interview (Score:4, Informative)

      by sholden ( 12227 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:40PM (#5790701) Homepage
      log-base-2 of n is not optimal for that problem, so it's not surporising you missed stage 2... And you aren't supposed to be told whether the odd marble is heavier or lighter, working that out is part of the problem.

      It's doable in O(log-base-3 of n), well log3(2n+3) to be precise...

      That's using a balance which compares the weight of two sets of marbles.
  • by ColonelPanic ( 138077 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:15PM (#5790373)
    I occasionally get a crack at candidates for experienced systems programming positions, and I like to see whether they know what they don't know. So I like to ask simple programming questions like:
    • How does struct member layout differ between little-endian and big-endian architectures?
    • Can integer division ever overflow?
    • The Cray X1 has an instruction that atomically ANDs a word in memory with one register value and then XQRs the result with another. How would you use this to implement an atomic "set bit" or "clear bit" primitive?
    • Tell me about a compiler bug that's bitten you and how you worked around it (or better, fixed it)
    • I'm stumped by a one of those, so I guess you wouldn't hire me. But that's OK since I already am employed. Two observations, though:
      • Did you mean that that Cray instruction did an XOR? Is it a typo, or are Crays so exotic and cool they actually have a boolean operation unknown to, well, me?
      • There are no compiler bugs in reality. It's always my fault. :) Just this morning, I was staring at a piece of code, convinced I was seeing a compiler bug where it optimized away my if logic. I even showed it to a cowork
      • * There are no compiler bugs in reality. It's always my fault. :) Just this morning, I was staring at a piece of code, convinced I was seeing a compiler bug where it optimized away my if logic. I even showed it to a coworker, and he agreed. Then, later on, I spotted the spurious semicolon...

        main(O){10<putchar(4^--O?77-(15&5128 >>4*O):10)&&main(2+O);}

        I just spent two minutes looking at your sig trying to figure out why the semicolon was spurious before I realized it was just yo

    • Ok, I'll bite:
      • They don't. Endianness applies only to multi-byte integers. If a structure member is a multi-byte integer, then the layout of its bytes is endian-dependent, but that has nothing to do with the fact that it's part of a structure.
      • Yes, if the destination (quotient) register is smaller than the dividend register. For example, if the divisor is 1, then the quotient is the same as the dividend, so it needs a register at least as large.
      • Assume the instruction ANDs with register A and XORs with
  • the answer (Score:5, Funny)

    by DrWhizBang ( 5333 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:15PM (#5790379) Homepage Journal
    Mount Fuji should obviously be moved by shovelling it through remote controlled venetian blinds using a round manhole cover purchased at the local gas station.
  • by Badgerman ( 19207 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:16PM (#5790390)
    . . . how much your interviewee is willing to put up with dumb questions. If they put up with them long enough, they'll probably put up with anything.

    This is a statement made sarcastically, but now I'm not sure if I'm that far off base.
  • by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:16PM (#5790391)
    Poundstone first presents evidence that "Where do you see yourself in five years" and "What are you most proud of" are fairly pointless questions.

    Having been an interviewer myself, I think I can say that these are not pointless questions. They show that the interviewee has prepared for the interview, and thought about the job. You'd be amazed how many people stumble when asked "Why do you want this job?" It's a good eliminator of unsuitable candidates, as good I should imagine as "Why are manholes round"...

    Of course, not all companies can afford the multiple days of selection that Microsoft can put job candidates through.
    • Of course, not all companies can afford the multiple days of selection that Microsoft can put job candidates through.

      But they can afford having sub-standard employees? Recruitment is expensive, but cutting corners is REALLY expensive. A company, particularly a company dependent on intellectual property, is no better or worse than the people that make it up. Bad people = bad company. Complaining about not being able to afford spending a few days to get the right person is a very short term view. It's even
  • manhole covers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dizco ( 20340 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:17PM (#5790408)
    manhole covers, when they are round, are round because the manhole is round. manholes are often round because its an easy shape to make, is structurally sound, and is a nice shape for a person to crawl down.

    There are other shapes [google.com] that won't fit down the hole they're covering.

    And there are pleanty of non-round manholes [google.com], which means that manholes aren't by definition round. So the question is akin to 'why are cars red?'. ... They're not red. Some of them are red, and the reason those ones are red is because they're red. Round manholes are round because they are round.

  • by grub ( 11606 ) <slashdot@grub.net> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:21PM (#5790448) Homepage Journal

    Pffff... I'll sit back on a lawn chair with some beer and let plate tectonics do all the work.
  • by bravehamster ( 44836 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:23PM (#5790482) Homepage Journal
    Admiral Rickover, who was placed in charge of creating the Navy's nuclear program was pretty much given a free hand in picking who he wanted to have working for him. His job interview tended to be a bit extreme, like hiding in the closet and jumping out at candidates to see how they would react, throwing things, insulting them. The one I remember hearing about the most was of a young midshipman who was about to graduate from the Academy and wanted to go into the nuclear submarine program. After sitting down for the interview, Adm. Rickover looked him straight in the eye, and said "Son, you have 30 seconds to piss me off." The midshipman sat there for a little bit, then noticed a glass model of the U.S.S. Nautilus sitting on the Admirals desk. He picked it up and smashed it to the floor. The Admiral stood up and yelled out "Dammit, that *pissed* me off! You've got the job."

    Basically the whole point was to see how people would react under stress. Kinda important when dealing with a nuclear reactor 300 meters beneath the sea.

    • This is documented a little differently in Blind Man's Bluff a book all about US submarine programs in the cold war. The situation is basically the same, but the applicant sweeps everything off the Admiral's desk onto the floor (IIRC). There isn't a specific mention of smashing a glass model of the U.S.S. Nautilus.

      Incidentally, that book is an excellent read.

      (Of course if I'm not remembering it right, strike me down for being arrogant.)
    • by DG ( 989 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @03:39PM (#5792772) Homepage Journal
      Not exactly a job interview, but a similar situation in a military context.

      I was on my Armoured Recce Troop Leader's Course, and I was being tested on Patrol Commanding in the Advance.

      A Patrol consists of two light armoured vehicles. A student is in charge of each vehicle, and one of them is the Patrol Commander who is in charge. The driver and observer in both vehicles are instructors.

      In the advance, you're out looking for the bad guys, so you take turns leapfrogging each other. One vehicle watches while the other vehicle moves forward to a new position of observation. If you encounter obstacles, the bad guys, etc there are a series of drills to carry out.

      If you fail the course, you lose your job, no possibility for a do-over. The course was broken down into sections, and each section had a practical exam. You could fail it once. Fail your second crack at it, and you were gone.

      So anyway, we're on my exam for Patrol Commanding in the Advance, and the guy assigned as my junior is a complete fuckwit. Couldn't find his own ass in the dark with both hands and a flashlight.

      He takes the first bound while I observe, encounters a blind corner, and fucks up the drill. The I take the next bound, leapfrogging him, and that goes OK. He leapfrogs me, encouters some other obstacle, and fucks it up again.

      In order to pass the exam, you had to do four bounds without error within a time limit, and by this time, we're starting to get close to the limit and there's only one good bound in the bag.

      So I'm looking at him floundering around through my binos, and I realize that I've already failed the exam... but By God I'm not going to let this whole experience go to waste. So I hop out of the callsign, storm forward to his position, drag him out of the vehicle, and tear him a new asshole.

      Normally, this Just Isn't Done - students don't yell at other students so that they don't look bad in front of the instructors. But as far as I was concerned, the damage was already done, and if I didn't do something about this numbnuts then the next poor bastard who he is assigned to as junior is going to get screwed too, so I have to sort him out right now.

      Once I've finished expressing my displeasure and explaining how he SHOULD have been carrying out his job, I tell him we're going to carry on with the exam until time runs out - but with one major difference. Instead of leapfrogging, we're going to catapillar, and I'm going to take the lead.

      This means that he drives forward to my position, and I move forward to find the next one. Lather rince repeat.

      It's slower than moving leapfrog, and it exposes me to all the risk because I'm always up front, but it also prevents him from screwing anything up because all he has to do is take up position in the spot I just vacated.

      We get two more bounds in and then time runs out.

      So I'm being debriefed, and the first thing the instructor asks me is how I think I did. The answer is obvious - not enough bounds done correctly, chewed out another student in the middle of the exam... it's pretty clear to me I've failed.

      But he passed me.

      Up until the point when I went foreward to have words with junior, I had been failing miserably. Chewing junior out (when it was clear he needed it) got his attention, but didn't necessarily _mean_ anything - anybody can get angry.

      Nope, what passed me was taking effective steps to solve the problem, by taking the lead and moving to catapillar movement to ensure I kept it. As soon as I did that, he passed me.

      I was told that a leader who can carry out a plan effectively is good to have around, but a leader who can take a plan that is all FUBAR and turn it around is something else again.

      There is, however, a rather unfortunate epilogue.

      The message that junior got out of this was rather different. The way he understood what had happened was "yelling at subordinates will get you passed" so he spent the rest of the course screaming his head off any time he had command of anything. Icing on the top of a perfectly enjoyable experience. :|

  • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:23PM (#5790483) Journal
    Interview Question:

    1. Collect underpants.
    2. ???
    3. Profit!

    What is step 2?
  • by Starky ( 236203 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:24PM (#5790508)
    I worked for a company in which the CTO, who would interview all prospective tech candidates, would ask a variety of questions such as, "Name as many ways you can think of to find a needle in a haystack."

    He first calibrated against all of the regular employees. Then he used that calibration to benchmark prospective candidates.

    I was also involved in the interview process, though my questions would be more like, "What is the directive that throttles the number of Apache processes."

    The results of his calibration were pretty close to what we all expected. The candidates we interviewed sometimes surprised us, and one of our best hires (a Ph.D. physicist who decided that he wanted to do something other than physics) pegged the scale.

    While it was a useful piece of information, however, I tended to find the technical questions, who really separated the interviewees, were more useful and provided a better correlation to job performance. The technical managers who interviewed the candidates (and who all did technical work in addition to their management duties) could tell inside of 5 minutes whether someone knew what they said they know on their resume and whether they had a "knack" for the work or not.

    The "IQ test" questions generally did their job and enabled us to tell who was smarter than whom, but there are alot of really bright people out there who are not necessarily the best employees.

    The CTO himself couldn't have answered the technical questions though he was extremely bright and could have pegged the IQ test. So I suppose it was the most effective way for him to evaluate folks. However, when interviewing for a technical position, the best way to evaluate any prospective candidate, in my opinion, is to have other technical people talk the candidate up on technical topics.

    Then again, he was a CTO and I was not ;-)

    • by bmajik ( 96670 ) <matt@mattevans.org> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @01:39PM (#5791391) Homepage Journal
      Your apache question is useless in the following sense

      1) tomorrow a new webserver that _smokes_ apache comes out. oops.

      2) it is asking someone to recall something memorized

      tne reason some MS interview questions are so non-specific is because someone MS hires today is statistically likely to be working on a different team and different technology within 2 years. Specific knowledge like asking how to configure apache is almost useless in an environment where you have no idea what you'll be working on now or in n timeperiods from now.

      some people do get very specific quesitons like that - typically, contractors are brought into to do technology-specific projects. there is no time to train them so they have to know the technologies they'll be working with on day 1. the interviews are entirely different for them because there is no built-in assumption that they have to be incredibly smart and adaptable.

      If MS were going to ask a question about apache, it'd be more like this

      "You have a webserver that doesn't throttle connections. Explain how you would change it so that it would. Now tell me how the adminstrator would tune or configure the throttling algorithm you've come up with"

      Followup: how would it be different for an ftp server ?

      Your question is mor elike the (much maligned) MCSE test. "please repeat domain-specific knowledge verbatim from some source"

      The directive for controlling this is obvious to anyone that is editing the apache.conf file. The question might as well be "where is the apache conf file" because its self describingly obvious, IMO.

    • I was also involved in the interview process, though my questions would be more like, "What is the directive that throttles the number of Apache processes."

      I've never understood these type of questions. Do you really want the person to be able to tell you that answer? Is "I don't know, but it would take me a couple of minutes looking through the config file or the help file to find out" an acceptable answer? Is it really that important to you for your employees to have memorized these things?

      I'm just cu

    • Apache directives (Score:3, Insightful)

      by apankrat ( 314147 )
      "What is the directive that throttles the number of Apache processes."

      Oh, this is classics. The better question would've been "There is a directive throttling the number of Apache processes - true/false".

      The answer for the original question is "I'm not interested in working for your company as you expect me remember some junk, which I would normally look up on as-needed basis". Duh.

  • by GuyMannDude ( 574364 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:25PM (#5790513) Journal

    When I first saw the heading "How Would You Move Mount Fuji?" I assumed this was an Ask Slashdot question. Finally, I said to myself, an Ask Slashdot question that can't be answered by a google search. Then I realized it was a book review. (sigh) Oh well, one can dream, can't one?


  • by teamhasnoi ( 554944 ) <teamhasnoiNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:27PM (#5790534) Journal
    Easy. Just say "Mt. Fuji is in Wisconsin," until people start believing it.

    It's how WMDs got in Iraq, the Patriot Act was written for 'patriots', the RIAA lost billions of dollars to piracy, and how Microsoft became the most secure OS ever.

  • Moving mt fuji? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sporty ( 27564 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:27PM (#5790539) Homepage
    I rather use the zen-ish answer.

    One rock at a time.

    There's a lot you don't know about the problem, so engineering such a simple question is virtually impossible.
  • by ChuckDivine ( 221595 ) <charles.j.divine@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:29PM (#5790563) Homepage

    No, I don't usually bring that up. But, given the topic, I think it is relevant.

    Yes, I do well on various kinds of IQ tests. I also have some real world accomplishments to my credit. To get a flavor of some of my abilities, check out my personal web site [att.net]. Some of it is serious, some not. The software side isn't fancy -- the point of the site is the content (words, pictures) not software. I have also done reasonably well in life. I make enough money to live indoors, sometimes do interesting work and have lots of friends. OK, I go in for understatement and I can be weird.

    These sorts of tests can screen out the obviously unqualified. They also can offend those of us who are good enough for the job. I've deliberately blown such tests a few times in my life. Once I walked out without even taking the test -- the company made that bad an impression on me. The recruiter who set up the experience was surprised.

    Hiring people is still a black art. Once you've eliminated the obviously unqualified, you might as well use some random criteria. Is there any alternative? Yes -- hire people who are already somewhat known to you. That way you get a fuller idea of what the person is actually like. It's easy (well, it is for me) to maintain an act for a few interviews.

    These puzzle tests do test intelligence to some extent. They also help make sure that the person being hired is at least somewhat like the people doing the hiring. And are willing to put up with something the corporation thinks important.

    Do such measures make me think well of a company? Not really. There are many things that can limit what you can do. Yes, a lower intelligence can be a handicap. So, unfortunately, can a dysfunctional corporate culture.

    I don't think I would like working at Microsoft. Gates seems too much of an autocrat. Yes, it's nice to work with intelligent people. But it's also nice to work in an enviroment where you're reasonably free. I don't know how Microsoft stacks up in that regard. Their lack of innovation doesn't speak too highly for them.

  • by Dr. Zowie ( 109983 ) <(gro.tserofed) (ta) (todhsals)> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:36PM (#5790647)
    (A) Start a spam campaign claiming that Viagra is actually just ground-up Mt. Fuji basalt. Wait for the inevitable tourist crush and run on the shovel market.

    (B) Plug the vent with Microsoft HR personnel. Watch as the hot spot forms another volcano elsewhere

    (C) Publish your own online encyclopedia. Sell it for less than cost. After it has achieved 97% market dominance, exchange the entries for Mt. Tabor (a volcano in Portland, OR) and Mt. Fuji (a volcano in Japan). No-one will know the difference. (Note: Microsoft is pursuing this one.)
  • by Neologic ( 48268 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:39PM (#5790688)

    Each of the letters is the first letter of the natural numbers starting with 'O'ne, 'T'wo, 'T'hree, 'F'our, 'F'ive, 'S'ix,'S'even, 'E'ight...

  • Bah... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by darkov ( 261309 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:41PM (#5790711)
    A Microsoft interview candidate will typically talk to four or five employees, and in general must get a "hire" recommendation from all of them.

    This is lowest common denominator stuff. Your chances that at least one of them has a personality clash with you, finds you a bit threatening or other totally irrelevant judgements skyrockets.

    Basically they're going to get the same guff that produce the same mediocre output that Microsoft does now.
  • by Hard_Code ( 49548 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:43PM (#5790729)
    1. Claim that the Japanese are hiding weapons of mass destruction in Mount Fuji
  • by Mundocani ( 99058 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:47PM (#5790768)
    As a former Microsoft employee of five years, I was never much into asking brain teasers and always asked more straightforward algorithmic questions when interviewing candidates. Regardless of the type of question however, the questions really serve one main purpose -- to see how the candidate thinks under pressure.

    I favored algorithmic questions because, like brain teasers, you got to test the candidates ability to reason but you also got some information about their ability to write algorithms and/or actual code. You'd be suprised how many candidates professed knowledge of an alphabet soup of industry technologies and languages, but had a difficult time correctly forming a "for" statement in C. Programming questions were also nice because once they were answered they lent themselves to further exploration such as optimizations.

    I was never particularly concerned about anybody getting the answer "right" or "wrong". Interviews are tremendously stressful for most people and it's often difficult to think very clearly under such stress. What was much more valuable was observing how they handled that stress and the thought process that they used in trying to solve the problem -- what questions did they ask? What mistakes were made and were they found? Did the candidate declare the solution to be complete even when it was terribly flawed?

    I think the most valuable person is one who isn't afraid to admit that he/she isn't sure and is willing to ask for clarifications. The scariest candidates were the ones who just plowed right in when they didn't really understand the question. I always assumed that I hadn't formed the question clearly (I wasn't deliberately vague, though that could be interesting too), but I expected the candidate to recognize that the problem was unclear and seek to understand it better.

    Following up with questions about optimization was really nice since it really lent some insight into whether they really knew how computers and compilers make use of their code. Of course, being able to optimize wasn't critical to getting an approval from me, but you can bet that somebody who demonstrated knowledge of how to write tighter code got a stronger recommendation than somebody who didn't.
  • by LibertineR ( 591918 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:58PM (#5790911)
    Manhole covers and Gas stations in not the point.

    When these questions and other, better ones are asked, the first point of evaluation is the reaction of the candidate. Some will freeze, some will quess, some will actually become upset about the question. What is being gauged first is whether the challenge is responded to emotionally or logically. Whether the candidate knows the answer or not hardly matters.

    Second; how and how QUICKLY does the candidate begin to work the problem towards a solution. If the candidate just quesses, he will be challenged about the answer to determine how he came to it. It is best if the candidate explains the process for breaking the question down into solvable chunks, or agreeable perameter assumptions.

    At Microsoft, it is assumed that if you got through the phone screening and invited out for an interview, that you are smart. Brains are not in question at this point. What is in question, is how easy or hard it will be to get those brains working the way Microsoft prefers.

    How agressive is the candidate towards solving the problem? How afraid was the candidate in getting the wrong answer? How did the candidate respond after answering rightly or wrongly? Was he sheepish or reserved, afraid to say anything else?

    When I was asked these questions, I asked to use the white board in my future supervisor's office, and drew diagrams while explaining the answers I came up with. Major plus points. Microsoft is competitive in the extreme. They want to know if you can back up your ideas with force, and not be talked down because someone challenged you. What good are you to them if you are brilliant, but afraid to speak up?

    This is why Microsoft gets a reputation for arrogance. Most everyone here is ready to defend their point of view to the death, until proven wrong. The challenge is leaving those battles on campus, and not bringing them home with you, which is all but impossible. Many great ideas get left on the table and forgotten, because someone lost an argument with a better debator. When that happens, you almost want to kill someone. I witness many occasions where discussions almost came to blows, and heard of a few that actually did.

    Those interview questions are designed to find out how wimpy you are, how committed you will be to getting something right, and defending your point of view. Naturally, you cant determine 100% accuracy through the interview process, but it is a start.
  • by Tenebrious1 ( 530949 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @01:03PM (#5790972) Homepage
    And set up a cheap SEP field... oh wait, that's how you'd make it invisible...

  • by Wirenut ( 35274 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @01:07PM (#5790995) Homepage
    I see interviews as much a way for me to evaluate the company, as for the company to evaluate me.

    People need to realize they are unique and that they are selling a product (themsleves) - and the supply is limited. "If you want to buy me, what are yo offering?"

    But on the other hand, if you scale your job searches correctly and only apply for gigs you are qualified for, it saves everyone a lot of headache.

    Crapshooting a job three clicks above your last, or which clearly requires skills or credentials you aren't close to possesing just wastes everyone's time and turns the interview into a hunting trip.

    My personal experience and skiils don't work well agasint resume filters - but then again, I probably don't want to work for a company that would miss out on me because they are so short-sighted as to rely on credentials or diplomas to evaluate me.

    I interview well, and am a "real" person. If I get my foot in the door, the job is mine.
  • Cult of the Puzzle (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Embedded Geek ( 532893 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @01:13PM (#5791068) Homepage
    "Cult" is the operative word here. I've never had the opportunity (honor? misfortune?) to interview with Microsoft proper, but I've dealt with a handful of companies that used these techniques and almost all of them did it poorly. There was always a conceit of "Golly, I'm so clever - show me that you are." This, despite the fact that the lame puzzle was recognizably pulled from a brainteaser book instead of being homegrown.

    Ask me about structure layout, how to optimize a function, when and where I've used OO inhereitance to enhance a design and when it's a horrible idea to use OO at all. Ask me how I'd deal with an abusive coworker or a boss with a substance abuse problem. Don't waste my time asking about manhole covers and pretending your company is like Microsoft. You're not. Get over it.

    It's reminicent of what I call the Hemmingway Effect. Ask anyone who absolutely loathes Hemmingway's writing and they'll immediately rant about the imitators who ape the original but do a poor job of it. Remember a few years ago when every half assed film student thought he was the next Tarrentino? Even if the original is any good (and I'll leave that an open question with regards to the folks in Redmond), the imitators are enough to turn mild dislike into full fledged hatred.

    Microsoft didn't get where it is by trying to be the next IBM. Only a fool buys into the notion of being the next Microsoft. The puzzle cult is yet another example of this.

  • by csguy314 ( 559705 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @01:14PM (#5791084) Homepage
    how they hire people for their security group.

    Interviewer: How would you make a critical, large, distributed application more secure?

    Interviewee: Round!

    Interviewer: Congratulations. Welcome to Microsoft.
  • by Dr. Mu ( 603661 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @01:23PM (#5791205)
    The blind people of Venice are human beings just like the rest of us. I find the notion of controlling them remotely not only morally repugnant, but a blatant misuse of technology. That Microsoft might have come up with this one is disappointing but -- sigh -- not such a great surprise.
  • by TaleSpinner ( 96034 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @02:08PM (#5791736)
    I've gotten that one several times, and I always
    have the same reply: "So the covers won't drop in.
    Now, can YOU tell ME why manhole covers in Nashua,
    NH are triangular?"

    It's a pity we are losing those covers as the city
    tries to rebuild its infrastructure. For those
    not in the know, Nashua and one other city in this
    country had manhole systems designed by a man in
    the early part of this century who realized that
    a three-point support system for a manhole cover
    would minimize the "clunk-clunk" effect of an
    even slightly warped round manhole cover as you
    drove over it.

    And what other city shares this distinction with
    Nashua? Well, they've mostly replaced those old
    covers, since you can't get them anymore, but that
    town which shares this distinction with Nashua is
    New York City.

    And I've never had anyone at an interview be able
    to tell me any of THAT.
  • real life example (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lxy ( 80823 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @03:57PM (#5792949) Journal
    20 min ago my co-irker came up to me asking me for some weird proprietary cable. She needs to connect a floppy drive to a PC and it's a proprietary job, so the cables to connect it are all wierd. In other words, she needed to move Mt. Fuji, but didn't have the right tools.

    The proper way to handle this is to step back and look at what the real problem is. The problem is not that the floppy drive won't connect, it's that a 1 MB file needs to be copied onto this Windows PC. It's not that we need to move Mt Fuji, it's that I need to see around it.

    Ok, what do I have for copying this file? I have a parallel port, a serial port, an external CDROM drive, and an ethernet connector. The external CDROM needs drivers, which reuqires a floppy drive. The serial/parallel option might work, maybe I could set up SLIP/PLIP on my linux laptop and set up direct connect in Windows. Well, that might need cab files, which are not on this machine. What about the ethernet connector.. it will require a driver, but maybe that driver's loaded. Yes it is, and TCP/IP is also loaded. Problem solved.

    Mt. Fuji is in the same spot. The floppy drive still cannot be connected, that hasn't changed. I found an alternative solution that made the location of Mt. Fuji irrelevant to my problem.

"What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying." -- Nikita Khrushchev